MSIM/NH: PROJECT HISTORY
In 2013, the Artists’ Collaborative Theatre Of New England (ACT ONE), a NH-based nonprofit, presented MAKE SURE IT’S ME/nh, a community arts and education event series addressing Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) experienced by American military service members.
The core message of MAKE SURE IT’S ME/nh is that there may be military service members in communities across New Hampshire coping with difficult and disorienting symptoms who are unaware of the possibility that they have sustained a serious brain injury. By learning some very basic information about TBI, all of us—whether military or civilian—can offer support to injured service members and their families as they work to restore their health and rebuild their lives.
The goals of MAKE SURE IT’S ME/nh were:
- to build awareness of the extent of TBI in service members/veterans and encourage TBI screening for anyone with symptoms
- to build bridges between the civilian and military communities in addressing this problem
- to connect families in need to the resources available in New Hampshire
Angela Molihan and Christian Maurice in ACT ONE’s Make Sure It’s Me
The MAKE SURE IT’S ME/nh event series was inspired by Make Sure It’s Me, a play by Kate Wenner, novelist and former producer of ABC’s 20/20. Make Sure It’s Me is a fictionalized account of five injured veterans in a research clinic in 2006 and the doctor committed to caring for them in the early days of TBI diagnosis and treatment. Wenner’s powerful play is drawn from interviews she conducted with service members, their families, and medical and military personnel. The ACT ONE MSIM/nh series based on this play included three elements:
Library Presentations: The development process for this production included two “teaser” events in 2012: a scene reading at the West End Studio Theatre (WEST) in Portsmouth in October and then a November reading of the full script at the Portsmouth Public Library. Then, throughout 2013 MSIM/nh hosted community discussions on the subject of blast-induced Traumatic Brain Injury at six libraries across southern NH, including Portsmouth, Manchester, Nashua, Hampton, Stratham and Hampstead. These events were free and open to the public and were led by ACT ONE’s Associate Director Leslie Pasternack. She was joined by ACT ONE Executive Director Stephanie Nugent; two-tour Iraq War veteran and Purple Heart recipient C.R. Marchi; Certified Brain Injury Specialist and Krempels Center Programming Assistant Jenny Freeman; and NH National Guard Joint Medical Planner and Occupational Health Nurse LTC Steph Riley. The Library Presentations included basic information about IED-blast related TBI, followed by readings of select scenes from Make Sure It’s Me to illustrate certain issues. Topics included the effects of the injury on family members and the difficulties faced by veterans living with both TBI and PTSD. The presentations concluded with discussion with the audience, ranging from 20-50 participants at each event. Stephanie and Leslie also made mini-presentations about TBI for the Hampton Rotary Club and the Hampton American Legion post during this phase of the project.
Spring 2013 Library Presentations were held:
March 18 at the Portsmouth Public Library
March 26 at Stratham’s Wiggin Memorial Library
April 4 at the Manchester City Library
April 18 at the Nashua Public Library
April 23 at Hampton’s Lane Memorial Library
October 8 at the Hampstead Public Library
Major Theatre Presentation: MSIM/nh also included ACT ONE’s world premiere production of Kate Wenner’s Make Sure It’s Me, directed by Leslie Pasternack and performed at the West End Studio Theatre (WEST) in Portsmouth, NH in June. Previously, the play had staged readings in Massachusetts, Colorado, and Illinois but had not received a fully staged production. A key component of this production was the composition of original music and sound by Jason Crigler, a professional musician and brain injury survivor who also served as a consultant and post-show panelist. We made free tickets available to post-9/11 veterans and their families and offered discounted tickets to veterans of previous eras.
Angela Molihan and Sally Nutt in ACT ONE’s Make Sure It’s Me
ACT ONE’s June 2013 run included fifteen performances and was seen by nearly 600 people, including veterans of WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan; civilians living with brain injury; military families coping with TBI and/or PTSD; medical professionals and veterans’ service providers; and interested civilians of diverse backgrounds. The teaser readings and every performance of the full production included extensive talkbacks with members of the MSIM artistic team and with guest panelists from the medical and military fields. The majority of our audiences stayed to ask questions and offer observations about Traumatic Brain Injury, PTSD, and the consequences of these injuries for both military and civilian families and the larger community.
In 2014, Leslie continued to refine the traveling presentation and presented it at the Red River Theatres in Concord, NH as part of the Brain Injury Association’s March TBI Awareness month. In April 2014, she brought the presentation to Greenfield Community College, where a members of the campus Student Veterans organization read the dramatic roles while Leslie provided contextual information. Among the student veterans reading was former Army Sgt. Josh Carnes, whose photographs from Iraq of the silhouetted soldier and a soldier’s eyes smiling with his goggles reflecting members of his crew are used on the MSIM flyers and TBI Fact Sheet. This model worked so well that she presented at the Manchester Vet Center yearly from n 2015-2018, with veterans reading the dramatic roles. Also in 2016, Leslie presented at the University of New Hampshire, with three student veterans from different academic departments and two Theatre and Dance majors as readers; and she incorporated MSIM readings by veterans into a special program entitled “War Trauma: A Changing Story,” which was the final keynote program for COMMUNITY STORIES: SOLDIERS HOME & AWAY, sponsored by the New Hampshire Humanities.
In 2018, Leslie finally got the MSIM presentation into the VA Medical Center in Manchester. She did a repeat performance in 2019. In 2020, COVID required the cancelation of a scheduled return to the Manchester VA, and Leslie subsequently decided to retire the MSIM/nh project. We’re all happy to say that much of the information we labored to share has been folded into TBI care for veterans and support for their families! We continue to support the work of everyone caring for veterans and military service members.
TBI Fact Sheet: Every participant in an MSIM/nh event received a TBI Fact Sheet detailing the symptoms of Traumatic Brain Injury and contact information for immediate help from local service providers. ACT ONE worked closely to develop this Fact Sheet with members of the Brain Injury Association of New Hampshire, the NH Commission on PTSD & TBI, and the Military-Civilian TBI Collaborative. Our goal here was to create a quick reference tool that was truly tailored to the needs of New Hampshire families in crisis. Audiences were also encouraged to take stacks of Fact Sheets to share with family members and colleagues. In response to requests, ACT ONE also sent stacks to the NH State Veterans Cemetery, State Trooper Barracks A, and the Manchester VA for distribution. The American Red Cross sponsored the printing of the first 4000 Fact Sheets. BIANH quickly stepped up and sponsored a second printing, which we now have available to use at future events.
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